Sunday, 29 November 2009

If you need me, I'll be here

all the theatre I’ve seen…

I am back, and have much reporting to do. Oddly enough it’s been a pretty eventful 2 weeks from a theatre perspective. Since we last met I’ve seen “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Young Vic, “Faithless Bitches” at the Courtyard, “Roman Tragedies” at the Barbican (which, let me just say, was 6 hours. And yes, I stayed for the whole darned thing), and even “Letters to my Grandma” at Theatre Passe Muraille and Necessary Angel’s “Hamlet” at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. Forest Fringe also did our first evening at Central, where we scratched our hub and I remounted “Music’s Been Ruined by Dating”, and Volcano and York University put on the double bill I wrote for, “Co-Ed”, directed by Ross Manson and Claire Calnan. So. All in all. A pretty darned eventful couple of weeks, for watching, making, and watching things I helped to make.

When these eventful periods of watching and making do come around, I always find myself quietly re-evaluating what is important to me in theatre. It's no surprise that innovation usually comes out on top. The idea that as an artform we’re making progress, that the work we make should constantly be challenging its own form, reinventing ways of presenting itself. But these past few weeks I think I've gone further in understanding why this is so vital. It's not just a natural human reaching for something sparkly and new - in fact, I think the reasons are deeper and far more exciting.

I did a quick teaching session at Queen’s a couple of days ago, and I came back to a definition of theatre that I invented on the spot for some central students, and that continues to get at me and seems to work. I told them that theatre to me is anything that asks an audience (of 1 or 1 million) to engage with what it is to be present, with what it is to be here now. The openness of this continues to make my head spin and makes me sort of giddy. According to this definition, my entire vacation to Greece could have been theatre. Falling in love could be theatre. But actually, they aren't. These alive moments come about organically, unpredictably, and they could end at any time. Unlike the feeling of watching great theatre, we never feel as though we're in good or competent hands, because the hands are often our own. It might be this lack of safety that means that in these lived moments we are present, but it's difficult to engage with or reflect on what that present means. We often worry that if we step back or take our eye off the ball for a moment (and the ball is usually called joy), the opponent will walk away and the game will unexpectedly end.

I bring up this definition because in what I’ve seen or helped to make in the last two weeks, the moments that were most effective were those that engaged with the present, reminding me that I am alive, and that seemed to be going for *that* over and above anything else. But past simply making me feel present, the truly transcendent experiences came when there was an exploration and delving into what being present even means. Even when these pieces feel as unpredictable as life itself (and the best often do), there is a kind of competence and design that gives us as humans the space to be both present and aware of and looking into that present-ness. (The Roman Tragedies did this best of all I would say. Time passed in a very surreal way over 6 hours, and the show worked beautifully with this outside time.) And I think what I've come to, is that the reason these moments are so often absolutely innovative, is that they are as dynamic as experience itself.

*Of course this is all a bit hilarious, considering that most of my work is about memory, nostalgia and the past – but of course, the past is always present. You just have to recognize it, offer it a drink, and tell it to put its feet up.*

Let’s keep working with this and see where it goes… But if you need me, I've decided I'll be here. I'll be looking at, reaching into, shifting about and engaging in here. It's hard work and you can't take a seat because it's always moving. But I think maybe it's worth it.

Friday, 13 November 2009

20,000 Roads

If anyone from Oia is reading...

Thank you.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Back in London: Who is this city and what has it learned?

Well, it’s been a good 60 hours or so that I’ve been back in this familiar-ish city, which, when you measure it up like that, does all kinds of strange things to my perception of time. 1 hour x 60 doesn’t seem so very much, yet 6 hours x 10 seems like a heck of a lot. Once during a play I got slightly bored and decided to calculate how many days I’d been alive, and I believe it was around the vicinity of just under 10,000. Which is strange, when you think if I’d been paid a dollar a day for my entire existence, I still wouldn’t be able to buy a house or even a particularly nice car. Not that I would turn my nose up at being given a dollar a day. Any takers?

Oh, right. Still avoiding the subject line of this blog post, aren’t I? With some half *ssed though elaborate tangential pseudo-math. Good for me and good for you for reading.

I spent the weekend at Arts Admin, first watching Chris Goode do his thang, his first time performing poetry since the Forest Fringe tapes in Edinburgh 2 years ago, and the next day meeting Jack Bond and Victor Spinnetti at a playreading of one of Jane Arden’s shows at the Artslab. The play, “Vagina Rex” dealt with feminism in a very hands-on way, though I think I’ll be more interested to watch Jane Arden and Jack Bond’s film collaborations through the BFI just as soon as I can get my hands on them. There was a lot of talk about whether or not there was a contemporary theatre of outrage - whether contemporary audiences could be radicalized the way that audiences were in the 1960s. I did take issue with the discussion's suggestion that theatre has lost its "can-do" attitude. I find nothing less helpful than the tendency, when discussing the 60s, to suggest it points to the sated attitudes of the youth of today. People still can-do, and are doing. We just live in a baby-booming society that idealizes the projects of its youth, occasionally ignoring the fact that rather than disregard these projects, our generation has been inspired by them, learned from their failures, and will (hopefully) make something happen. Wow. Bit of a rant. Sorry, what else were you expecting from the blog?

Quite a wonderful feeling came out of this reading, which was that they began discussing Jim Haynes, one of my heroes, the founder of ArtsLab and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, and mentioned that they would be showing a video interview with him. I couldn’t wait to see what the man looked like – when suddenly, a familiar face came on the screen. It turned out that I had already met Jim in Paris 2 years ago. I had gone to his house for dinner, and he’d seen me do a monologue on the Golden Hour tour and gave me the warmest most congratulatory smile afterwards. He is such a down to earth man that I’d had no idea I was monologuing for the same Jim Haynes who played such a large role in inspiring me to found Forest Fringe, but there you have it. I’m glad this feeling had 2 years to ferment before coming to light. It’s a vintage I can keep.

On a different note, I am questioning whether I have to stop stewarding at Arts Admin, even though I love the building, the events and everyone who works there. I keep running in to professional contacts while I do it, and in our little industry nobody (including myself) seems to know quite how to handle the co-director of a venue having to break off conversation to clear up the rubbish in the room and to put away chairs. I’m in two minds about this – one part of me thinks just clear up all the better and let the world get used to it – if anything, it should demonstrate Forest Fringe’s down-to-earth, can-do attitude, of which I’m very proud. Another part of me gets nervous in these situations and is less bold. Demystifying the less glamorous aspects of theatre, stewarding, for example, does make me buzz with excitement a little. The real question has to be, am I being subversive or simply foolish? (Story of my life!)

So there’s me in London, avoiding my laundry, breakfast, and date with the Odyssey. I really am back.